The purpose of this writing is to explain the difference between simply locating a lawyer and finding one who is ready, willing and able to represent your best interest.
To locate a lawyer, you could look in the yellow pages or consult one of the on-line services, such as: www.lawyer.com or www.martindale.com. Before lawyers were allowed to advertise, there was the "ask your friends" method of finding a lawyer. The beauty of this method was not that they would tell you who was the best lawyer in town, but that they could tell you who to avoid.
All attorneys are not Perry Mason or L.A. Law's, Arnie Bernstein. There are lawyers out there who are incompetent. Keep in mind that nine out of ten lawyers did not graduate in the top 10% of their class.
If you fail to distinguish between simply locating a lawyer and finding a legal champion who wins more cases then he loses, you are giving yourself an unnecessary handicap. The task is to eliminate the incompetents and to find the champions.
To bypass the loosers and identify the winners, we must level the playing field by eliminating the myths surrounding the legal profession. The practice of law is a business! People enter this business to make money! It's that simple. Law firms, like any other business need paying customers. The only difference is that law firms refer to their customers as clients.
In order to maximize profits, law firms specialize in different areas of the law. Like all businesses , a law firm's survival depends on sales. No sales, no income. Thus lawyers do sometimes take cases in areas of the law in which they have no expertise. They do it to make ends meet.
This may be O.K. for lawyers but it can sure screw things up for their clients. This problem can be avoided by asking the proper questions. You should say something like:" Have you ever done a child custody case before?". It also pays to be observant. If you are in a law office with a lot of real estate paraphernalia you should ask say something like;"I called you because your ad said you specialized in divorce but I noticed your office seems to be dedicated to real estate. How many divorce cases have you done recently?"
The list of questions could go on ad-infinitum. The purpose of our questions is to get a feel for the guy's win-loss ratio. We also want to know whether he does better with male or female clients. Whether your guy is a republican or a democrat may not matter to you. But, does it matter to the judge who's going to be hearing your case? Because all courts are political you should get a feel for the power structure in your jurisdiction and your guy's place in the scheme of things. Why pay for a service your guy can never deliver?
Can't our prospective lawyer just lie to us and tell us what we want to hear? Yes he/she most certainly can but most probably won't. Lawyers have learned over the centuries that clients ruined by deliberate lies oft times do violent and unpredictable things. The law industry's favorite method of lying to us is the lie of omission. Thus when confronted by an angry client they simply emote and exclaim; "My God, man! You never asked."
The legal industry has built itself a catch-all excuse called "harmless error". If you never asked and the lawyer didn't volunteer the information the court will call it harmless error. Harmless error is good for the legal industry in that it makes work for lawyers who charge you to re-do your case.
Clients are not the only parties to legal actions who are hurt by lies of omission. Clients who withhold information or lie under oath can put the attorney's license at risk. The easiest way to loose your guy's loyalty is to withhold information that puts his reputation at risk or worse. There is no dumber way to loose your case than to keep your attorney in the dark about pertinent issues. How can an attorney be prepared to defend a point if he is never made aware of it's existence in the first place?
To avoid the disfunction of client-attorney rifts, the industry has come up with a little social grease called "attorney-client privilege". "Attorney-Client Privilege" means that you can tell your attorney anything and that your attorney cannot divulge this information under penalty of law. This of course varies from state to state.
To summarize: Ask questions to qualify or eliminate the attorney you are going to ask to represent you with your legal problem. Once you are satisfied that your choice is able to defend your best interest and that your candidate has no glaring defects, hire him. Do not withhold any data from him no matter how embarrassing you may find said data. The entire relationship is based on mutual trust. If the trust is missing from either side, your chances winning are lessened.
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